Born in Tampico, Illinois, on February 6, 1911, Ronald Reagan and his family moved many times during his childhood. In December 1920, when he was nine years old, they rented a house on Hennepin Avenue in Dixon. Reagan remembered raising rabbits in the back yard with his older brother Neil. “All of us have to have a place we go back to. Dixon is that place for me. There was the life that has shaped my body and mind for all the years to come.”
His father, Jack Reagan, was a shoe salesman who scraped and scrapped so his family could get by. Always looking for a new pot of gold, he uprooted the family at every turn. Throughout young “Dutch” Reagan’s childhood, his family never owned a home.
In one of these moves Ronald had a kind of epiphany. The lonely boy ventured to the attic of his latest home. The previous tenant left behind a collection of bird’s eggs and butterflies enclosed in glass. The curious first-grader escaped into the attic for hours at a time, marveling at the eggs’ rich colors and the intricate wings of the butterflies. “The experience,” Reagan remembered, “left me with a reverence for the handiwork of God that never left me.”
But life was not simple or easy. One cold February evening in 1922 11-year-old Ronald returned home from a basketball game at the YMCA, expecting to arrive to an empty house. Instead, he was stunned by the sight of his father sprawled out in the snow on the front porch. “He was drunk,” his son later remembered. “Dead to the world … crucified.” His father’s hair was soaked with melted snow, matted unevenly against the side of his reddened face. The smell of whiskey emanated from his mouth.
“Dutch” Reagan wanted to simply let himself in the door and pretend his dad wasn’t there. Instead, he stood over his father for a minute or two, and then grabbed a fistful of overcoat and hauled his father into the bedroom, away from the weather’s harm and neighbors’ attention.
The event shook the young Reagan, but he felt no resentment, just grief. And he never forgot it. This, after all, was the man who had always carried him.
Four months later he was baptized at his mom’s church.